Tag Archives: Friendship

Unemployment Tuesday

Looking for jobs is no fun. Coloring with 2 year olds is great fun.

Starting afresh, alone, is daunting. It is lonely, it has extreme joys and extreme disappointments, and can be boring. But I have been so blessed by the people I am meeting. I am bouncing from house to house on a weekly basis, which is certainly unsettling and frustrating. But also a fantastic way of receiving offerings from so many new people.

This week I am with a family that has a 2 year old boy. E is pretty incredible for his age. He is nearly entirely potty-trained (childhood development experts know that this is quite a feat!), holds full conversations that often pertain to his feelings or opinions about a subject (also, wow.) but most importantly is infinitely entertaining. Which is great because the constant online-resume-upload is getting tiring.

Yesterday it snowed in the city. E really wanted to go enjoy it. So E’s mom put him in some rubber boots and a coat made for a child twice his size. And while the eskimo boy traipsed around the sidewalk in front of the house, his mother and I stood at the window watching to ensure that he didn’t run into the street. E then decided he wanted to shovel the snow. (There is, at best, 1/2 an inch collected on the 4×6 patch of grass in front of the house and the street.) Over the next half-hour E diligently throws all of the snow from the grass onto the sidewalk, barely able to see out of the massive hood covering his face. It was better than any television show I’ve seen lately.

Today, E dropped me off at the train station so I could continue subjecting myself to act of selling one’s accomplishments that the unemployed go through. He held my hand from his car-seat for the entirety of the ride. Its nice to know that one is loved.

Finally, E refused a nap at the time when his parents and I really needed to get some work done. What to do in cases like these other than accept what is happening and alter your plans? So I spent the afternoon drawing fish, dinosaurs, signs, and dragons. He gave me several pieces of cut up paper and I gave him most of my drawings. Its always nice to receive handmade gifts.

Thanks E!

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Repentance

Faith like a child.  Religious followers are told to trust their God with childlike faith. In general, I believe we should all approach the world with a sense of childlike hope and trust.  But we don’t.  We are jaded, cynical, and often proud of this and our ability to live independently and survive harsh conditions.

Children view the world as a brand new, exciting place.  Everything is amazing, fascinating, exciting.  Ideally, they are feed, clothed, protected by, and loved by a community of adults in their lives. Innocent, and considered stupidly naïve by some, but because of this, children are the ultimate risk-takers.  They haven’t been let down, haven’t been hurt, haven’t lived with years of empty promises and aching hearts.  Therefore children rush head first into new activities, willingly answer questions that they truly don’t know the answer to, and invite relationships with all people.

As time goes on, we all learn to protect our bodies and hearts above any other interest.  And some cultures instill a complete individualistic attitude where serving yourself is not only top priority, but the only priority.

Unfortunately, self-protection and self-service often leave us in deeper hurt. The girl who has heard too many empty promises of love eventually refuses any type of intimacy, emotional or physical, and lives in totally isolation.  The boy who lost too many toys and products of his own labor to seemingly curious friends “just taking a look” eventually protects everything he earns with such vicious efforts that he too lives in isolation.  The measures we take to protect ourselves from the harms others inflict upon us do such a great job that no one gets close.  Likewise, we eventually find that no one is around to help in our desperation.

Working in the world of aid reveals all kinds of self-protection measures, and often brings out a clash between self-protection and altruism.  There are stories of groups of people unable to understand why someone is helping them; because their culture dictates that self-interest always, always, always comes first.  So why then, would some stranger willingly help them out, and for free?  Others blatantly refuse help because the walls built to keep people out do not leave room for trusting outside help.  “…[T]hese are our problems, not yours.  We don’t want anybody fighting for us—and we certainly don’t want anybody feeling sorry for us,” was the response of a female, Saudi doctor when asked about her status in Islam.  This denial for help stems from a mistrust of intentions, because too many previous “do-gooders” didn’t do any good at all.  So we are taught, over time, to do everything for ourselves and by ourselves.

How then, can we ever look at the world with the faith and hope of a child?  Every breach of faith, every promise broken, and every wound caused through action and inaction adds another brick to our walls of self-protection.  Every wound caused by another human reaffirms the belief that protecting ourselves from every other person is vital to our survival.

Yet there is hope.  Every so often someone does something to you that restores your belief in humanity.  That would be repentance.  Admitting to our mistakes, first of all, says, to one whose main concern is self-protection, ‘your self was harmed and I’m at fault’.  This statement can bring the walls down, or at least parts of them.  This statement offers the possibility to trust in people again.  It opens a door for communication that can eventually lead to restoration.  It did for Chantal.

Sources:

Kristof, Nicholas D and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky. Vintage Books: New York, 2009.

Eggers, Dave. What is the What. Vintage Books: New York, 2006.

Hinson, Laura Waters. As We Forgive, Epilogue. 2010.

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Keeping the Peace

My roommate and I were talking the other day about getting what we want and being polite.  She admitted to asking her bosses for time off to attend a training on the genocide and the importance of remembrance with As We Forgive, instead of straight up saying ‘I want to go visit a memorial site with my roommate’.  Now seeing as how I do help teach the tenets of reconciliation and represent As We Forgive, her excuse was not entirely wrong. But it wasn’t the truth of her heart.  She just wanted to see a memorial with a good friend.  I wondered then, why are we so afraid of saying what exactly it is we want?

In our jobs, like my roommate’s story demonstrates, we have learned how to ask for what we know we will get, rather than what we actually want.  In our relationships, we just keep quiet and “go with the flow”; afraid of admitting deeper feelings and finding that they aren’t reciprocated (or worse, afraid of admitting a loss of feeling and hurting the other. Thus we drag each other on, leading another to believe that we feel something we don’t actually).  After being insulted or embarrassed, we don’t speak up.  But our thoughts of doubt do more damage to these relationships and inflict more harm than the truth would.

I live in an incredibly polite society.  Appearance is everything. The streets are swept free of dirt, leaves, and what little trash is lying around every morning.  Leaving the house requires business attire or dress clothes. And everybody is always fine and wearing a smile.

Which is a little unfortunate.

I admit that I wouldn’t want to be honest with my emotions if my past was filled with feelings that cannot be described. Plus, expressing oneself is terrifying. First, it is incredibly difficult figuring out what exactly you are feeling. Second, we have no idea how people will receive our hearts. So yes, it is much easier to bury it all, and deny your emotions, and put a smile on your face.

But forgiveness and reconciliation cannot occur on the surface.

Healing is possible from storytelling because hearing another’s experiences invites personal connection and thus a restoration of humanity. And the overly polite come across as inhuman. Too good to be true. And if they really are okay, then I cannot possibly admit to my inner sadness or frustration.

It is terrifying to be honest. But doing so ends in fuller understanding of the situation, and often closer friendships. And that is what it means to be human, right?

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What If

“I think that imagination is an important part of what makes change possible. One must be able to imagine what it is like to a woman, or a slave, if one is moved to remove artificial barriers. To remove unjust legalities.” – Ahab’s Wife or The Star Gazer

Reconciliation requires imagination.  It demands the ability to imagine the possibility that your actions will be interpreted in a way that you don’t intend, or the ability to imagine the pains and struggles your “enemy” lives and struggles with.

Ok, its personal story time.  I took a trip to Tanzania for two weeks.  (It was a pretty epic trip by the way. Check out the photographs on my facebook profile.)  This was a two-week vacation with my family that I intended as a time to not really think about the cross-cultural work relationships and the joys such cross-cultural living/work experiences bring.  But I guess I went on vacation too soon.  I forgot to actually call up a couple of people and tell them goodbye as I left.  (In reality I didn’t call anybody on the day of my departure.  My housemates knew when I left because they were there when I walked out of the house.  But everyone of significance knew the dates I would be gone from, including the offended parties.)  This is not because I am rejecting all the relationships I have here.  This is because I truly did not think it mattered to inform everyone I know here that I will be gone for two weeks.  My boss knew because he had to approve the trip in the first place.  But I like the fact that I can do what I want when I want.  Silly me.  I didn’t even consider the fact that some people expect a friendship to mean I-know-everything-about-you-all-the-time.

So when I returned on Monday, one of my friends was personally offended.  Truly.  I went to a meeting where we sat next to each other in silence for an hour—this person generally asks a lot of very detailed personal questions.  And while leaving this meeting, I was stuck a pace and a half behind said person who could not stand to walk next me.  Wow.  They are mad!  For a couple of hours, this really bothered me.

I said I was sorry…

It’s not that big of deal…

But I had to consider the possibility that it was a big deal.  What if this person thought that the exercising of my independence was actually a personal rejection?  What if my actions conveyed the idea that I don’t like that person-enough to just up and leave them?  Well, if this was the interpretation, then the reaction is valid.  I don’t understand it, it seems overdone to me, but imagining the alternative explains the reaction.  Furthermore, after I considered the possibility that other interpretations could exist, I had to imagine what actions are required in response to these other interpretations.  If this person truly thinks that I personally rejected them, then my response from here has to be rebuilding trust, which will take a long time.  But that is the reality.  And I try to live in reality.

What if means imagining alternative reactions to your actions.  What if means thinking of the possibility that other people think differently than you do.

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